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Botany Report

by Gill Smith

This has been a strange year for plants, with a mild start to the year which meant that the dog’s mercury was out by the first week of February and primroses by the 10th March. I was intrigued by the dog’s mercury in Gilling Woods, when I noticed that large patches seemed to be all male or (less commonly) all female. I wondered whether each patch was in fact a clone, having spread vegetatively from a single plant?

There was no hot summer and from April onwards it seemed to me that the year was about a month behind. March was unusually dry, but the rest of the year more than made up for it, with floods causing major problems in October-November. As a result of the generally wet aummer the roadside verges grew tall and lush, almost rank, and this may have shaded out some of the smaller, more delicate plants. This is a particular concern where the adjacent fields have been heavily fertilised and the nitrates spill over into the verges.

This year’s personal highlight was probably a trip to Sandale where Nan Sykes and I found (amongst other things) moonwort, mountain everlasting, marsh arrowgrass, marsh helleborine and bog pimpernel, the first three of which I had not seen before. We visited other sites in the area, some on grassland, some in bogs, some on the moorland. It is good to know that a number of unusual plants still thrive in Ryedale, although increasingly only in protected corners. However, one of the better sites was a set-aside field on Cauklass Bank, where a good number of the old cornland weeds including field madder, scarlet pimpernel, tiny field pansies, venus’ looking glass, cornsalad and dwarf spurge were flowering; clearly the seeds of these plants can survive a long time in the soil and germinate under the right conditions.

It was also a joy to see both butterfly orchids growing in our area, the greater in Beadale Wood at Wrelton, and the lesser on the moor at Sykes House, Rudland, growing with fragrant and heath spotted orchids (many thanks to Tom and Janet Denney for showing us this site). Indeed it was generally a good year for orchids, with the biggest early purples and marsh helleborines I have ever seen, a wonderful show of pyramidal orchids in several places, and some splendid marsh/spotted hybrids in Newtondale.

The yellow star of Bethlehem flowered quite well, especially considering that part of the site was disturbed by tree-felling and “tidying”. The autumn meadow saffron (“naked ladies”) which were reported last year flowered well, and we found more field mouse-ear (along the side of the Cauklass ridgeway, growing with lesser burnet saxifrage).

I managed to go on all this year’s trips, where we found a good range of plants (160 species at Ellerburn!): as ever it was a pleasure to visit such wonderful sites with knowledgeable friends. As I said last year, “One of the benefits of a society like ours is the sharing of knowledge and experience, and it’s a much more enjoyable way of learning than just reading the books.”

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